House Science Committee Holds Hearing on Overhead Costs of Research

The Subcommittee on Research and Technology and the Subcommittee on Oversight of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology co-hosted a hearing on the overhead costs of research on May 24. The focus of the hearing was the indirect costs incurred from research, reimbursed by the government as part of research grant awards. The subcommittees primarily discussed the indirect costs from awards made by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Witnesses included Dale Bell from the Division of Institution and Award Support at NSF; John Newmann of the Government Accountability Office; James Luther, Vice President for Finance and Compliance at Duke University; and Richard Vedder, Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

Committee members expressed concern about the rising proportion of federal funds going to reimburse indirect costs, which include administrative and facilities costs. Members also expressed concern that the process for negotiating indirect cost rates is becoming more complicated, benefitting larger and wealthier research institutions.

No consensus on how to address the rising proportion of indirect costs emerged. While some members suggested that indirect costs should be taken into consideration when NSF decides to award a grant, others focused on how NSF can continue to fund quality research despite the rising indirect costs.

This hearing represented a continuation of discussions from the 114th Congress about the administrative burden on federally funded researchers, which Research and Development Subcommittee leadership expressed interest in continuing. Witness testimony and an archived webcast of the hearing is available on the Science Committee website.

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